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Recommendation: New school for Grand Forks, no north end closures

A new elementary school should be built on Grand Forks' far south end as soon as feasible and Wilder and Winship in the north end should remain open as elementary schools, a schools group is recommending.

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A new elementary school should be built on Grand Forks' far south end as soon as feasible and Wilder and Winship in the north end should remain open as elementary schools, a schools group is recommending.

The Demographic Task Force, which met Tuesday, will present its preliminary recommendations to the School Board on Monday.

The 30-member task force, formed by the school district to address the imbalance between overcrowded south end schools and underutilized north end schools, had reviewed more than 60 options.

Wilder parents were pleased with the task force's decisions. Some of the options had called for the school's closing and conversion into a new home for Community High School.

"It's a favorable outcome," said Lucas Kindseth. "We were not going against the tide, but we shifted the focus."

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The decision "is in the best interest of Grand Forks, said Eric Burin. "The task force took its job seriously and carefully weighed the evidence-based arguments we presented. It shows the virtues of citizen engagement, especially at the local level."

North end parents

The task force heard from 11 parents of north end elementary students who implored the group to consider the consequences to educational quality and the neighborhoods of closing a school.

Nikki Berg Burin, a teacher and parent who grew up in Grand Forks and attended West Elementary, cited research studies that link neighborhood blight with school closure. She said small neighborhood schools raise productivity of students, especially minority students, of which there's a significant number in the Wilder attendance area.

"I am so grateful to live in a community that values elementary schools and what they provide," she said. "I desperately want that this for my children. I want it for my community."

Revitalization of the north end and the vision for new growth in the city's south end support the recommendations that the task force will advance to the School Board, Superintendent Larry Nybladh said.

"Birthrate and Census data project that we should see moderate growth in our enrollment base," he said. "Perhaps the decline has bottomed out and we'll see revitalization and growth of neighborhoods in north Grand Forks."

Gail Kalenze, principal of Wilder and Winship and task force member, said she "would like parents to begin some problem-solving with me, as a partnership, to allow them to promote" and attract more students to Wilder.

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New school

Kelly and Century elementary schools in the south end faced the opposite problem. New residential developments in that area put too much pressure on the schools.

The new south end elementary school would alleviate that pressure.

It would accommodate 300 students initially, with capacity to add a wing to allow for growth up to 600 students in the future, similar to Century's initial building design.

The school district owns two lots in south Grand Forks that could be developed for a new school, or the district could explore a land trade if necessary, Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson has said.

Century is on track to be over capacity in two years, he said, and a new school would take two years to build.

The task force also made two other preliminary recommendations that affect elementary schools.

Addressing safety concerns from parents and others, the task force redrew Wilder's boundary to capture a "wedge" on North Washington Street, a major thoroughfare some students must cross to attend Winship.

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It also recommended closing closing Carl Ben Eielson Elementary School and send students to Nathan Twining Middle School at Grand Forks Air Force Base, which has seen a smaller population since the loss of the air refueling mission.

Other schools

The task force also recommended modifying middle school boundary lines to align more closely with high school boundaries.

New lines include an area where students are choosing, through in-district transfer, to attend Valley Middle School even though they live in Schroeder's attendance area.

Central High School boundary lines were adjusted south and west to relieve some pressure on Red River High School, but allow for continued growth at Central.

Thompson said students can complete their careers at the schools where they're enrolled, and families can apply for in-district transfer until the schools reach capacity.

The future of Community High School drew comments from several committee members.

"Moving Community High School to an elementary school is not the best answer in the long run," said Judy Paukert, a task force member.

Some options had called for converting Wilder or Winship into a home for the alternative high school, which now uses leased space.

Paukert asked that the administration form another group to study the issue.

"This would allow for more time for creative thinking and exploring other options," she said. "I believe there's not an urgent need to change, but concerns do need to be addressed."

Reach Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or send e-mail to pknudson@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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